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Navigating The Hero’s Journey. Part 2: The Cognitive Mind and the principle of sponsorship

As with the Somatic Mind, two levels of the Cognitive Mind may be distinguished. The Basic Level involves the processes used to navigate the social/psychological world: Plans, strategies, rules, frameworks, schema, social roles, etc. It also holds the shared means of social life, and the fixed values of an individual identity. Generally speaking, it is responsible for social adaptation, control of environment, advancement of self-interest, and maintenance of self-identity. It generally operates by taking a fixed point of view, holding some intention (consciously or unconsciously), then acting to realize those intentions. Obviously, it is a crucial aspect of healthy functioning, one that needs continuous attention and practice. As we say in California, don’t leave home without it!

While this Basic Level is generally sufficient for ordinary circumstances, it will fail to meet the challenges of extraordinary experiences. The Basic Level of Cognitive Mind has difficulty thinking «outside the box.» It gets locked into a particular point of view, and has difficulty allowing creative chaos, multiple points of view, contradictory points of view, or conflict. It cannot easily surrender to «death and rebirth» experiences. For example, say you have a daughter who is entering adolescence, and all of her «sweet young girl» behaviors are being replaced with hip-hop, intense interest in boys, and a need for greater freedom. Or that you are in multicultural environments, where clashing views of religion, freedom, and ethics are being expressed. Or that you attempted to get rid of some undesirable experience or behavior, and it keeps returning with a vengeance. In such contexts, a Generative Level of Cognitive Mind is needed to successfully navigate such experiences and their inherent challenges.

The Generative Level of Cognitive Mind «includes yet transcends» the Basic Level, allowing creative thinking, systemic (i.e., field-based) identity, and resonant intentionality. That is, it maintains rationality, intentionality, strategic planning and acting, and social meanings; but expands beyond it to include something more. This advanced level is more a meta-cognitive principle and process, something self-relations refers to as sponsorship (see Gilligan, 1997). The principle of sponsorship is the cornerstone of all self-relations work. The word «sponsorship» comes from the Latin «spons», meaning, «to pledge solemnly». So sponsorship is a vow to help a person (including one’s self) to use each and every event and experience to awaken to the goodness and gifts of the self, the world, and the connections between the two. Self-relations suggests that experiences that come into a person’s life are not yet fully human; they have no human value until a person is able to sponsor them. This is the creative process of art, culture, therapy, parenting, and self-development: how to receive and absorb the river of life in creative ways. This relational process literally transforms an experience that seems to have no human value into something whose value is evident.

There are many ways to practice sponsorship. The «yin» (receptive) aspect of sponsorship involves receiving, allowing your heart to be opened, bearing witness, providing place or sanctuary, soothing, gently holding, being curious, deep listening, and beholding a presence with the eyes of kindness and understanding. The «yang» (active) aspect includes relentless commitment, fierce attentiveness, providing guidance, proper naming, setting limits and boundaries, challenging self-limitations, and introducing the sponsored experience to other resources. Through a skillful combination of these and related sponsorship processes, an experience or behavior that seems to have no value to the self or community can be transformed from an «it» that should be destroyed to a «thou» than can be listened to, appreciated, and allowed to develop within self and community.